Just before the winter break, a Community and Equity (C&E) assembly gathered Concord Academy students, faculty, and staff to build skills for recognizing credible online sources of information and engaging constructively around topics of global conflict. C&E co-directors Alex Holmes and Vicky Orozco opened the December 15, 2023, presentation by naming the context of the war between Israel and Hamas as well as the varying degrees to which CA students are personally affected. They emphasized the importance of critical questioning and research in addition to reflecting on individual positionality and actions.
The first portion of the program addressed misinformation, or unintentionally inaccurate information shared out of ignorance or fear, as well as disinformation, which is deliberately false or misleading. As Holmes and Orozco detailed, misinformation and disinformation can range from satire, advertorials, false connections when headlines or visuals don’t support content, reportorial errors, and opinions presented as fact to manipulated imagery, impersonation of genuine sources, real content combined with false context, propaganda, and completely fabricated content. They outlined the divergent goals of misinformation and disinformation— whether for power, politics, or profit, or for humor or advocacy for a compelling cause—and why we are so prone to believing and spreading it, based on confirmation bias, desire for validation, and a human tendency to prioritize emotions and personal beliefs over objective facts. Students watched this video, and then several volunteered to play a low-stakes Kahoot, voting with their smartphones to test their skills at spotting different types of misinformation.
Following the fun, Holmes and Orozco brought the focus back to the CA campus. “When we view conflict as a binary, we don’t make space for human complexity,” Holmes said. He then introduced the concept of dialectics, a framework in which many things can be true simultaneously—for example, someone can be a hard worker and value rest, or someone can be friends with another person and disagree with them—which they used to approach this conflict within the community.
“It’s absolutely OK to have our own position and opinions on the conflict and it is our responsibility as community members to be mindful of where, when, and why we use it,” Holmes said.
Those not directly impacted might acknowledge their own beliefs and opinions while also having empathy and care for members of our community experiencing grief, fear, or loss. Those uninformed and personally disconnected can understand their responsibility to seek out information from trusted sources before unintentionally spreading harmful misinformation. Individuals personally impacted can acknowledge all of their emotions, gather in supportive spaces, and also have empathy and care for other impacted community members from different backgrounds. “We’re not asking you to dampen what you feel but to understand what it means to be in community,” Orozco said.